Endless to-do lists, financial strain, dreading family functions, feeling lonely, fear of holiday weight gain, experiencing mental and emotional exhaustion with a full calendar can rob us from our happiness during the holidays.  Mindfulness is a century old Eastern concept that is well known to gift us with more peace.  Mindful eating means paying closer attention to your body, habits and triggers.  I’d like to share a few tips to find more joy and treat your body with respect this year.

Gracefully arrive to the meal.  Food represents the gift of energy, effort and life.  No matter what personal or faith-based beliefs you have, find some words to cultivate gratitude either silently or aloud prior to eating. Before diving into the meal, pause and reflect both inward and outward.  Enjoy the food with attention and appreciation.  It has a powerful ability to nourish your body while you experience pleasure.

Let go of the rules.  It’s OK to get seconds and it’s OK to leave food on your plate.  Using your sense of appreciation and gratitude for the food, reflect inward to your stomach cues with intention to eat an amount that gets you comfortably full.  Make food decisions from a place of wisdom and acceptance rather than habit or obligation.  Listen to what your stomach tells you.  Find what works for YOU rather than doing what you think you “should” do.

Stay present.  Appreciate the holiday food by recognizing the taste, flavor, texture and smells.  Become aware of your choices without judgement.  Compassion and empathy are the remedy for judgment.  Mindful eating can mean eating with a deep awareness of what we are eating and why we are eating.  Be curious of what comes to surface, it may be worth investigating later.  Allow yourself to have a thought or experience an emotion without having to react to it.  Be aware of your surroundings, urges to eat out of obligation as well as emotionally driven cravings.  Be aware of various degrees of hunger; mindfulness works best when we avoid the ravenous stage of hunger.

Practicing mindfulness brings an opportunity to experience food as an enjoyable source of nourishment, something to welcome and celebrate.  Consciousness is an essential ingredient to your well-being.  Eating mindfully is a journey and takes practice; expect yourself self to slip up from time to time.  The key is not giving up when you stumble.  Be kind to yourself and keep learning; progress no perfection. I challenge you to be more mindful this holiday season and you may just feel more merry.


Chaundra Evans, RD, LDN, CEDRD-S is a Certified Eating Disorder Registered Dietitian and an approved supervisor for the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals. She helps her clients build a healthy relationship with food and improve their eating habits using a non-diet approach. If you’re looking for this type of nutritional support from a nutrition professional, call our office at (910) 790-9500  today to schedule your appointment. 

  The holiday season is a universally stressful time of year – a lot of people get stressed about money, winter is upon us, there is a lot to do that is out of our daily routines. Given all this, it is no wonder it gets to us.

While it might seem stressful to add mindfulness to your list, it can help us manage the stress and get the most out of the season. After all, this is a time to connect and be thankful as well. And for those with eating disorders, the holidays can feel like an enormous roadblock – parties, dinners, family, travel – that just keeps hitting you from Halloween all the way to Valentine’s Day.

Here are some ways to use mindfulness to cope with the season in general as well as some ways that loved ones and those with eating disorders can use it to mitigate the negative impact their eating disorders have on the holidays.

Practice gratitude and acceptance – If there is only one part of this that you implement, let it be this. Practicing gratitude through journaling, affirmations, meditation or prayer has been proven over and over to increase general life satisfaction, improve medical outcomes, and elevate happiness scores. Obviously, we focus on this at Thanksgiving but let’s not end it there! Just thinking about gratitude is enough to get the positive effects – even better if you are able to do it every day. Also, saying your thanks to others helps you share that gift with the people you care about.

Acceptance operates in much the same way, but it allows you to get un-stuck from the worries, demands, or people that might get you down. If you are able to identify those situations beyond your control that are getting you stuck, sometimes all it takes is acknowledgement to accept the situation and move through it. The same way you write, speak, or think gratitude works for acceptance – though you might not want to tell your Great Aunt Ann out loud that you accept her fill in the blank issue.

Be aware of your own needs – it is important to be open to and make space for your own needs, thoughts, and feelings. We all have different associations with the holidays – family, traditions, past experiences, loss – and need space to process them our own ways. Do not forget to take care of yourself and be good to yourself.

Allow yourself some peace – letting go of judgement, enjoying experiences and not focusing on the outcomes, doing less, unplugging, and spending some time alone are just some of the ways we can get some peacefulness and space in our lives. There is no other time of year when we have so much time with our support system and so many reminders of the importance of them. Everyone on the planet needs that in their lives. But we need to remember that everyone has different levels of need for connection and it is important to give yourself and your loved ones room to do that in their own ways.

Play – having fun is sometimes lost in the busyness of the season. What makes you smile? What positive associations do you have with different holiday or winter activities? Adults need playtime too! Think about something you liked as a child and do it with your own kids, your dog, or your partner. Connect. Make it happen!

Practice compassion – compassion and lovingkindness are two important concepts to apply to yourself as well as others. When we keep compassion in the forefront of our minds, it allows us to take care of ourselves, and be more attentive and more relaxed. Usually, that also makes us kinder and more open to others, keeping the holiday spirit alive.

For those whose loved ones are suffering with an eating disorder, here are some other ways to manage food stress associated with the holidays:

Don’t be the “food police” – for adults, it is not anyone else’s responsibility to manage their food choices, it is something each individual has to decide. If you have an eating disorder, try to stick with the plan that you and your therapist and dietician have worked out. If you are supporting someone, talk about what would be helpful to them ahead of time and follow through.

Pick your moments – walking on eggshells or avoiding difficult topics might let your family dinner be more peaceful, but some issues do need to be addressed. If you are concerned about someone’s eating behavior, or even just their stress level, it is important to talk about it. But maybe not at the dinner table or in front of the uncle who gossips about everyone all the time. If you do confront them or attempt to have a conversation, make sure you are being honest and saying what you mean to say. It might even be helpful to have a plan, especially if you have tried to talk about it before and it hasn’t gone well.

Let go of judgment (and practice compassion) – mindfulness is all about not judging. There are lots of stereotypes that stigmatize eating disorders – do not assume you know what their experience is like (or vice versa).

Family can sometimes trigger judgment and criticism – try to notice when you are judging yourself or internalizing messages from others. Next, take a step back and try to observe the feelings without judging them and you might be able to give yourself some much needed space for kindness, empathy, and compassion.

Use “I” statements – eating disorder or not, it is never a good idea to assume you know where the other person is coming from. “I” statements – “I feel (an emotion)   when you       do this behavior or say this specific thing)        .” help solve this problem. By expressing your own feelings, you increase your ability to connect and reduce defensiveness. Stick to pointing out what you have observed and keep your non-verbal communication calm and open.

Here are some things that are never appropriate – “Just eat!” and “Just stop!” are not useful comments. Never comment on the weight or with an eating disorder or tell them they look ”healthy” – try not to make any comments about that, especially when food is involved. Commenting on what they are eating, especially during a meal, is not helpful (unless they ask you for feedback directly).


Image result for winter holidays family cartoon free image


This column contains a couple of common questions from the parents of my patients about kids during the holidays.

What are your suggestions for helping kids have reasonable expectations for what “Santa” brings (when other kids get expensive stuff)?

There is no one answer to what is right for Santa to bring so please keep that in mind as you read these suggestions. Santa is an extension of family and as such should match your family’s values.

Having family conversations with your children well ahead of the exciting build-up to Christmas can help children have expectations that match what is right for your family. Even though children learn about Santa in many places, the main place they learn about Santa is at home. This is a great opportunity to teach them what Santa means to your family. Having these conversations together before the buildup to the holidays can help teach children many of your family’s values that go far beyond material gifts.

If your child complains that gifts are “not fair” or that another child got a “better” gift from Santa than they did, try to respond with empathy rather than lecturing them for being ungrateful for what they received. In doing so, you are teaching an important value—namely that you care about each other and hear each other out when you feel wronged.

This does not mean that you need to agree or promise the moon for next year. Just acknowledging a hurt goes a long way to helping someone feel understood and loved. Even though we may not think so, showing empathy in this way is a gift that we can give our children and Santa would surely approve.

How do we help our children learn boundaries and ways to stay safe around unfamiliar family and friends during holidays?

Recommendations from pediatricians and child psychologists/psychiatrists have changed dramatically from the “old days” when children were forced to hug and kiss family friends and relatives. The reason for this change is that it corrects a harmful mixed message that may have made children more likely to be exposed to dangerous touching.

The current recommendation is that that you should not force children to have unwanted physical interactions with others. This allows children to decide who and when to hug. In addition, you should help your child set limits if you feel a situation is not appropriate or if an adult is trying to force a hug or a kiss and your child seems hesitant.

It is ideal to have conversations about this as a family before the holiday season. This will give your child plenty of time to ask questions and also to let the ideas you share with them “marinate” before they have to apply them. You can let children know that they don’t have to do the same thing to every person or every time and that is okay. They don’t have to offer explanations to people for not giving physical affection. And importantly, that you support them no matter what.

Monitoring your children at family events is important. It is also appropriate to step in and say, “If Bobby does not want to hug that is okay.” Instead of physical affection, you could have your child help put up guests’ coats or show guests where the snacks are set out. This way children learn about respect and hospitality while also learning that you support them when it comes to setting limits about physical interactions with others.

The Girl Scouts have a parenting article on this topic that has additional considerations: “Reminder: She Doesn’t Owe Anyone a Hug. Not Even at the Holidays.”

Last, try to avoid using labels for your child or giving excuses such as, “Oh, he’s just shy.” Your child may take that label to heart and it could have an unintended negative impact on your child’s self-esteem. It is not “shy” to set a limit and decide not to hug a relative. It is a show of strength and there is no need to make excuses about it. Supporting your child and modeling limit setting is the best way to ensure that your family enjoys the wonderful holiday festivities at hand.

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!


 Dr. Kate Brody Nooner is a licensed clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychology at UNCW. She also holds an adjunct appointment at Duke University and is the principal investigator of NIH-funded grants aimed at reducing child and adolescent trauma and preventing alcoholism.

Emily Lockamy

‘Tis the season for invitations – to holiday parties, performances, Secret Santas, tree lightings, cookie swaps, and other fun-filled, festive gatherings.

But for people who are wrestling with mental health concerns or painful life transitions, like a divorce, a recent loss, or serious depression, such activities can seem overwhelming and unappealing.

But the pressure to appease well-meaning friends and family members who request your presence at such events can feel immense. You may feel as though you can’t say no for fear of disappointing them, even if you know that accepting their request will only bring more stress and distress at a time when you feel like you’re hanging on by a thread.

Declining invitations can feel difficult, but setting boundaries and doing what works best for you as you try to cope and recover is important. And there are several ways in which to make the act of saying “no” feel more doable:

  1. Use Mindful Self-Compassion to justify your choice.

Self-compassion involves being kind to yourself during difficult moments – instead of berating yourself for not being “strong enough” to want to celebrate this holiday season, speak to yourself like you’d speak to a close friend. Say, “This is a period of pain… Pain is a part of life… May I be patient with myself and give myself the compassion I need.”

Instead of blaming or shaming yourself for “letting others down,” acknowledge your shared sense of humanity: “Everyone struggles at some point. I’m not alone.”

  1. Recognize your rights as a human being.

As leading expert on self-compassion, Dr. Kristin Neff, points out: none of us signed a written contract before birth promising that we’d be perfect, that we’d never fail, and that our lives would go exactly the way we want them to. So why should we hold ourselves to unrealistic standards?

Experts in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), explain that we all have legitimate rights that reflect our value as humans. A few rights in particular are key to remember when it comes to navigating relationships and having hard conversations:

“You have a right to need things from others.

You have a right to put yourself first sometimes.

You have a right to say no; saying no doesn’t make you bad or selfish.

You have a right not to justify yourself to others.

You have a right, sometimes, to inconvenience or disappoint others.”

It’s perfectly okay to exercise those rights when needed.

  1. Use assertiveness skills to respond.

The ability to say no is an essential part of healthy communication.

“Saying no is simple and hard at the same time,” write authors of the DBT Skills Workbook, McKay, Wood, and Brantley. “The words are simple, but often it takes courage to say them.”

Effectively passing up an offer entails just two steps:

  1. Validating the other person’s needs or desires.

Example: “I appreciate you including me. You always throw great dinner parties.”

  1. Stating a clear preference not do it.

Example: “But I’m really not up for it this year. I need to take some time to rest.”

While it may feel uncomfortable at first, the more you practice being assertive – confidently expressing what you want, need, or believe, while respecting others’ feelings – the easier it will be.

  1. Remember that boundaries make for better relationships.

We can’t please all the people all the time, and we can’t be everything for everyone. And even if we could, it would come at a high price. Maintaining good boundaries is one of the healthiest things we can do for ourselves and our relationships. Protecting our own boundaries helps us avoid feelings of hurt and resentment, and enables us to take better care of ourselves and experience a clearer, more positive self-concept. Respecting others’ boundaries helps us cultivate more balanced, supportive, and caring connections. And sometimes, having firm boundaries means saying no. 

  1. Recognize that all feelings are valid, but no feeling is final.

It’s hard to be in a dark place during the “most wonderful time of the year,” but these feelings won’t last forever. Give yourself permission to hibernate a bit, or change up your traditions (knowing that you can always revert back to being busier and more social next year). But also be mindful of the tendency to isolate and withdraw, which can worsen depression. Try to seek and accept support in ways that feel helpful.

Lastly, while you may assume that all the bright lights, merry music, and cheery people will surely only fuel your low mood, try to stay open to the possibility that being around others and getting out of your comfort zone may help lift your spirits.

If you do decide to go out, you can give yourself an out.

Example: “Gotta get home to take my dog out!” or “I think I’d better leave at intermission.”

You can also say “yes” to something and reserve the right to change your mind, at any time.

If you do opt to don your “ugly sweater” and attend the annual bash, it can help to plan ahead and anticipate difficult feelings that may surface and how you’ll handle this (if you’re at a loss for coping skills, therapy can help). At the same time, try to practice positive thinking by interrupting anxious ‘what if’ thoughts with a different kind of question: “What if I have a great time?”

Most importantly, be gentle with yourself this season. It’s not an easy time of year, but pain does not have to equal suffering, and suffering does not have to be done in silence. If you’re finding that you need to talk to someone, call 910-790-9500 to set up a therapy appointment at Chrysalis Center for Counseling and Eating Disorder Treatment.

And remember, ‘no’ can be a full sentence.

Emily Lockamy is a licensed professional counselor associate and freelance writer passionate about helping people find their way through grief, anxiety, and other struggles. Emily also facilitates Healing Words: A Therapeutic Writing Group, helping people process emotional pain through the art of writing.


(Image source: BBC)

Sarah Voegtle

With the hustle bustle of the holiday season, it is very easy for anyone to get stressed out and overwhelmed.  For someone with an eating disorder, this stress can be amplified with the gathering of people for holiday get-togethers and parties that are celebrated with food and eating.  It’s important that people with eating disorders and their families prepare themselves for the holiday season in order to reduce stress and discomfort.  Below are some helpful tips that may ease the distress of the holiday season.


  • Plan, Plan, Plan– Speak with your family and friends to see what the food spread might be at the get together. Come up with a meal plan that includes all food groups in order to leave you satisfied but not filled with regret after the event. Try to avoid anything that may trigger negative self-talk or urges to engage in disordered eating behaviors. If you are traveling, plan the snacks that you will take with you in order to keep your body nourished.
  • You CAN do it! The holidays are stressful but you really can do this. Challenge negative or irrational self-talk during this holiday season. Practice positive self-affirmation daily and fill your day with positive music and company. Remember to focus on facts, not irrational or unrealistic thinking.
  • Set Boundaries– Remember, you don’t have to attend every event or get together that your invited to. Choose a few that you will feel most comfortable at both with the food but also the company. If you have family or friends that you think may make a comment to you that is uncomfortable either about your body or eating, reduce your contact with them.
  • Variety is the Spice of Life– There are no “good” or “bad” foods. During the holiday season we often consume foods that we may not during other times during the year, that’s okay! Food is not the enemy, it is fuel for a living body! Allowing yourself to be more flexible with the kinds of food you eat will help you live a fuller and more freeing life. Plus, our bodies love being nourished by all different kinds of foods.
  • Breathe– You may have anxiety during this holiday season. Come up with healthy ways to cope with that anxiety. Make a list so that when you’re feeling anxiety you don’t have to think about it, but you can go right to that list and choose something. There are also great smartphone applications, such as Calm or Headspace, that offer wonderful guided meditations to help reduce stress and worry.  Don’t forget to plan some restorative time for yourself, as well, to decompress from the holidays.
  • Listen to your Body– During this holiday season try to focus on mindfulness. Focus on the flavors, smells, and sounds around you. Allow yourself to fully listen to your body when it’s hungry and when it’s full. Being mindful of any urges or emotions you are feeling and make sure to seek support when needed.

Above all else, the holidays are supposed to be a time for joy. Be kind and forgiving to yourself, as you would any other person that you care about. Embrace where you are in your recovery and always show yourself grace.

Sarah Voegtle, MS, RD, CSSD, LDN is a registered dietitian specializing in the treatment of eating disorders and sports nutrition. Sarah enjoys empowering her clients to improve their overall health through nutrition. 

Being newly single can be quite challenging during the holiday season. You feel bombarded with images of budding romance and happy families.  You realize that the traditions you had participated in will change. Overall, your expectation is that you will be lonely, restless, and maybe even depressed. As challenging as it may seem, consider this as an opportunity to learn how to be single again….and perhaps, even to embrace it.

Here are 11 things you can do to make the holiday season brighter.

Play It Forward: remind yourself that how you are feeling during this season is NOT how you will be feeling for the rest of your life. We all go through cycles and changes in life. This may be a low point for you, but there will be an upswing.

Do A Reality Check: don’t assume that everyone else is doing better than you. You never know what an individual or family might be struggling with. And, the idea of a happy traditional family setting might be more of a marketing tool than reality.

Seek Wisdom: talk to people who have gone through the holidays as a single person. Ask for their advice on how to cope. You will find comfort and support in their responses.

Create New Traditions: find new ways to celebrate the holidays. If you always had turkey for a holiday meal, try something different. Attend a different holiday religious service. There are many creative ways to start new traditions.

Learn To Say “No”: if you receive an invitation and you’re just not ready to go out socially, or the situation might make you uncomfortable, it is okay to say “thanks for the invite. I’m going to take some time out for now”. It is also okay to accept invitations, attend the event, and leave early. In other words, give yourself permission to set limits.

Go Public: if, on the other hand, you are someone who enjoys chatting and connecting (most women do), then accept invitations and approach each one as an opportunity to feed your need for connection. Research has found that one way to treat depression is to put yourself in a public setting in order to be around people and enhance your mood.

Practice Altruism: it is a proven fact that acts of kindness improve our mood. In addition, exposure to the hardship of others gives us a meaningful perspective on our own problems. The holidays are a perfect time to get out and volunteer or organize donations for those in need.

Reclaim An Interest: is there something you neglected or gave up entirely while you were in your previous relationship? Now if a great time to reclaim it. Set aside time and space dedicated to doing something you enjoy, especially if it is creative or offers the opportunity to meet new people.

Try Something New: there’s probably something you’ve been wanting to “try” but have held back. Use this season to “just do it”. Not only are you likely to enjoy yourself, but imagine how good it will feel to have stepped outside of your comfort zone. You’re likely to feel proud and confident which will add to the sense of reclaiming your life.

Declare A “Me Day”: be a little selfish and spend a day focused on yourself, whether you stay home in PJ’s watching TV reruns or movies, or go out for a nice meal, get a massage; whatever makes YOU feel good.

Follow the Sun: exposure to natural light is known to be a mood enhancer. If you don’t have the resources to travel someplace warm and sunny, try a full-spectrum light. If you can’t get natural light, use environmental cues to enhance your 5 senses: look at sunny climate images, rub suntan lotion on yourself, play uplifting music, burn a candle, eat some strawberries.

Take this list and track your use of it. Having a plan that offers choices gives you a sense of taking control of your life. Tracking your behavior and emotions gives you accurate feedback about your successful transition from “we” to “me”.

For anyone who is struggling….you do not need to be alone. Reach out to a support group and/or seek counseling.

Kerri Schroder, PhD is a licensed psychologist who finds passion in helping people through life transitions. 

This guest blog is written by a client who wishes to share her thoughts…

Sometimes I have to ask, “Is there something in our water?” Something that makes it okay to comment on someone else’s body? Something that affirms that “beauty is only skin deep”?

I have been pondering these ideas after a recent interaction I had on a dating site, using the dating site account profile that I set up years ago. I recently got back on the site and had not yet updated my profile. (It is now up to date: the “sick” me is not one I want to flaunt. Not only is it not a realistic representation of what I look like anymore, it also brings up old memories. Memories better left in the past.)

While updating my profile I was struck by how few recent photos of myself are included in my photo albums. Why is this? The shame of my new body. I avoid the camera at all costs. Not because I am so worried about other people who are obviously drinking tainted water, but because I am only human and I must confess: I drink water, too. I am filled with embarrassment every time I see my reflection. It just doesn’t fit what I am feeling on the inside or what I have been through in the past.

That’s the key point here: it was in the past. My past not my present. A lot has changed since then. Not just my body. Being in recovery has changed my body of course but it has also changed my life. And while I struggle with body image daily I would not return to my past for a chance to be in my “sick” body.

Sure, on days like today it seems extremely tempting to return to old patterns. I found this out all too quickly as I casually skipped breakfast this morning. The thing is – it was not casual or unimportant. It was intentional. A direct choice influenced strongly by another.

Which brings me back full circle to the dating site and profile I mentioned earlier. So, I was talking to this man, right? As people often do on dating sites. One thing led to another and we set up a time to meet. Before the conversation ended, he asked to see more photos. I agreed and shared my personal Instagram username.

After several minutes he returned to the conversation. He commented to me on “how drastic a change your body appears to have been through.” He continued, “you’ve gained a lot of weight.” My heart sank. And he is right: my body is no longer the same body I had then.

My body is now one filled with life and not just an empty shell that I wear.

Rest assured, the date is off. But today I have to pick up the pieces left behind by that conversation. Today I have to be strong. Today I have to make the choice for recovery, which is more challenging than it was yesterday. Today I remind myself that he is only human. That though what he said hurt me, I will not let it throw me back down the rabbit hole I once lived in. Today I hold both: the fact that what he said was true and that what he said was extremely wrong and inappropriate.

I hold hope today. Hope that he learns to think before he speaks. Hope that he does not so badly offend someone else. And mostly, I hold hope for myself. That I can learn to accept my body as my own and embrace it. That I can stand tall and proud of the person I have become. Because truly, I am the only person who knows the depth of what I have been through. I did not share with him that I am in recovery from a severe eating disorder. Nor did I share how hurt I was and am by his words.

Let me leave you with these two things: Have hope, it honestly gets better. And, think twice before you drink our society’s tainted water.

Sarah Snyder

Because it is breast cancer awareness month, I was asked if I would tell my story about my journey with this disease. I, of course, said yes and was honored to do so since this disease affects thousands of women and men across the globe; the more awareness that is out there – the better. But, as I started writing this I had the realization that each person’s cancer diagnosis and journey is as distinct as the person it affects, and how they recall this journey is just as distinct.  

This is my story.

On the morning of Tuesday February 21, 2012, I sat alone on the examination table in Dr. Charles Scott’s office at Wilmington Health. I wasn’t there because I needed a physical or I had a cold, I was there because the week prior he had performed a breast biopsy and it was time for the results. He had already come in and checked my biopsy incision and stated that “everything looked good,” and then promptly excused himself for me to get dressed so we could go over the pathology. It may not have been a red flag for others but because I have worked in healthcare my entire career I knew that if I was really 100% fine, he would have told me so when he checked the biopsy site and there would have been no reason for a second chat.  I knew the next time he walked in to my room I was going to hear a word that no one is ever prepared for and even though I had hoped I was wrong, the pit in my stomach was telling me to prepare myself because my life was about to be forever changed.

Dr. Scott came back in my room after a few minutes and this time instead of stethoscope he was carrying a piece of paper and his nurse Angela was with him. He looked me in the eyes and asked, “ready?” I remember slowly nodding my head “yes” even though I was definitely not ready. “Ductal Carcinoma In Situ” was his next statement to me because that was what the pathologist found in my biopsy. But, behind those big words was the real diagnosis…breast cancer. I do not remember everything that Dr. Scott said to me while I sat on his examination table because I was intent on not breaking down in tears, so I kept telling myself to “hold it together ” and “don’t you dare cry.” My mind was busily trying to accept my diagnosis and everything that was about to follow. I remember thinking how I was only 31 years old… I had a full-time job…. I was a full-time college student only three courses away from completing my MBA…. and most important, I had two small children at home so who was going to help my husband raise them if I died? My mind also went back and reviewed the last six-month journey that brought me to this very spot and how I had actually hoped to get here just not with the same ending.

In September of 2011, I was sitting on my couch when suddenly, I had this weird sensation run from the middle of my left breast to under my armpit. It was not a painful feeling just a very odd one and, in that moment, I had a powerful thought “you have cancer.” At first, my mind went to “what a crazy thought” but at the same time I had a pit in my stomach because breast cancer has affected every generation of women in my family and it has always been a worry hidden in the back of my mind that I too would pull the unfortunate short straw and be diagnosed with this disease. To ease my mind, I scheduled an appointment the next week with my gynecologist and when I explained the sensation I had, as well as my family history with breast cancer, I was certain that my request for a simple mammogram would be instantly approved. I was expecting him to appreciate being proactive and order the test even if to just to ease my mind. He instead patted me on my knee and told me that I was just being overly paranoid and that no mammogram was needed because I was too young to have breast cancer and no insurance would cover it. I left that office feeling shocked and unheard, but I was not yet defeated. The following day I scheduled an appointment with my PCP to get a second opinion believing that even though I did not feel heard the first time around, I hoped this doctor would hear me out and take my concerns more seriously. Two weeks later when I went in for that second opinion I told my doctor the same thing: the sensation I had, my family history and my request for a mammogram. I was unfortunately told very similar statements as before: “too young”, “your family history is not that bad”, and “no mammogram is needed”.

I wish I could tell you that the third time was the charm but unfortunately it was not. Neither was the fourth. I spent the next five months “doctor shopping” for a mammogram. I even went as far as calling a local radiology office and ask if I could pay cash for a mammogram, but their answer was “no” because special testing requires a referral from a medical provider. I honestly could not believe that it was really this difficult to get a mammogram! I feel this is the point where I started to lose hope and began to feel defeated. Defeated as a patient and defeated as a woman. But even in those low moments I knew that I had to keep going and make someone hear me.

About two weeks later, I was at work in my office when one of my medical assistants came in and asked if I was still looking for a new doctor. I told her I was, and she told me how amazing her PCP was then urged me to call her. I took down the information, but I was a little reluctant to call and go in because I wasn’t sure if I could handle being dismissed by yet another physician. I gathered my hope and made the call to Dr. Catherine Daum’s office at Wilmington Health later that day and scheduled an appointment with her later that week. Walking in to Wilmington Health for the first time was a little overwhelming but as soon as I met Dr. Daum, I knew I was in the right place and this was going to be different from my other appointments. Dr Daum listened to all my concerns and feelings and without any hesitation ordered a mammogram. I cried tears of joy in her office because someone finally listed to me and was willing to help me! This is what I had hoped for and was so thankful and knew that my hope had led me to the right physician. One week later I went in and received the mammogram that I hoped for and a few days later I was back in Dr Daum’s office being told a mass had been found and that she was referring me to Dr. Charles Scott, a surgeon with Wilmington Health who specialized in breast biopsy/cancer. I met with Dr. Scott for the first time a few days later and he too listened to everything I had to say and then asked me if I wanted to revisit the mass in six months or have him perform a surgical biopsy, I choose the biopsy and the rest is history.

Back to Dr. Scott’s office just being told I had cancer …… 

Once I was able to focus again I found Nurse Angela with her arms wrapped around me and Dr. Scott (attempting to take some of the shock away) making a reference to movie that I had never seen. I interrupted his movie reference and asked him what my options were. After he reviewed them with me, I opted for a bilateral mastectomy. When I asked if I could get on his surgical schedule ASAP, he told me I’d be in surgery that Friday. I left his office knowing that I now had to tell my husband, children, family and friends about this new chapter all while staying strong and having hope that everything was going to be alright.  I knew there were only two options, the low road or the high road and I refused to fall in to a pit of depression and let this diagnosis win. I didn’t have time for that. I can’t say that I was not scared because I was, but my faith and hope was stronger than any fear. Three days later on February 25, I had my bilateral mastectomy and was officially cancer free.  Four months later I had my reconstruction and while there were some complications in between I never lost my hope that everything was going to be OK. Perhaps not perfect – but OK.

I am six years cancer free and I celebrate every February 25th as my cancer birthday. It has not always been easy, I had to make so many difficult decisions and my life is forever changed, but I am alive and here with my family and I even graduated with my MBA on time.Everyone who is diagnosed with cancer is a survivor, I just hope that I can inspire people going through similar situations and they can see this is what the face of cancer can look like. If I could choose one word to describe my journey, it would be hope because that is honestly what carried me through. More importantly I want people to understand the power of hope and to hold on to it even in the most difficult of times.

Sarah Snyder is the Practice Manager at Chrysalis Center.

Emily Lockamy

Joan Didion, once asked: “Was it only by dreaming or writing that I could find out what I thought?”

The acclaimed author explains, “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking. What I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.”

Didion makes a profound point about the power of writing to increase self-understanding. A power that is accessible to all of us really, regardless of whether we are published authors or even “good” writers.

Recent research shows that the act of writing can, in fact, help us become aware of important truths and gain a firmer, fuller grasp on who we are and what we’ve endured. It can help us make meaning from difficult experiences, and more effectively integrate events and emotions into our lives, facilitating growth, resilience, and recovery.

“Writing allows you to access your wider mind, a wiser, more encompassing place deep within,” writes Susan Zimmermann, author of Writing to Heal the Soul: Transforming Grief and Loss Through Writing. 

But not every type of writing produces such results.

Louise DeSalvo, teacher and author of Writing as a Way of Healing: How Telling Our Stories Transforms Our Lives, explains that restorative and transformative writing involves writing in an intentional way, wherein you attempt to connect past experiences with the feelings you had at the time, and the feelings that come up now as you process that trauma, loss, or struggle. DeSalvo asserts that in putting pen to paper and linking our thinking and feelings from the past and the present, we can develop greater insight and a sense of empowerment — therapeutic effects that we miss out on when merely taking to the page to vent (which is shown to be unhelpful) or to write without any direction.

Focused writing becomes even more impactful when we take the step of sharing our words with empathic listeners, explains DeSalvo, as this audience can help reflect what we have expressed, identify gaps in our narrative, and open our eyes to patterns or personal strengths we cannot see.

Chrysalis Center for Counseling and Eating Disorder Treatment is now offering a new 6-week group that offers the opportunity for people to explore their emotional wounds through research-backed writing methods that provide the paradoxical structure and freedom shown to alleviate suffering and promote mental health, self-mastery, and connection. Writing exercises that both tap into the unconscious and create a safe container for the chaos of strong feelings. Writing that takes place in a comforting space free of judgment. Writing that unlocks the potential for peace.

Healing Words: A Therapeutic Writing Group is open to adults of all ages going through challenges that they wish to process through the art of writing. Perhaps you have lost a loved one, or an important relationship, or your home and/or sense of security after the hurricane. Perhaps you’re caregiving for a sick family member, or bringing a baby into the world, or dealing with the aftermath of an accident, an illness, or insecurity. Perhaps you feel lost or crippled by anxiety.

Whatever you’re contending with, writing as a therapeutic modality may be able to help you “discover and fulfill your deepest desire. To accept pain, fear, uncertainty, strife. But to find, too, a place of safety, security, serenity, and joyfulness. To claim your voice, to tell your story.” (DeSalvo, 2000).

To learn more about Healing Words, please email the group facilitator, Emily Lockamy, MA, LPCA at To register and schedule your group screening, call 910-790-9500.

Chrysalis Center is happy to welcome Sarah Voegtle, RD, CSSD, LDN to our staff. Sarah joins our team of dietitians to provide expert nutrition counseling to our clients. She is now accepting new clients and is in-network with BCBS and United Healthcare. I asked Sarah a few frequently asked questions that I often hear from prospective clients when they are considering meeting with a registered dietitian.

What populations do you serve as a dietitian?

I am a board certified specialist in sports nutrition and I have extensive experience in eating disorders. However, as a dietitian I am trained and able to see all ages and genders. I have experience with weight management, diabetes management, eating disorders, GI disorders, food allergies/food intolerance, immune disorders, and renal nutrition.

What is your approach to nutrition counseling?

I have a non-diet approach to nutrition counseling. I firmly believe that all foods can fit into any eating plan and there are no bad or forbidden foods. I strive to empower my clients to help improve their mental and physical health.

I already know what I should eat, why should I see a dietitian?

Most people have some baseline nutrition knowledge. However, a dietitian is the expert in all things food and nutrition. Dietitians base their practice on solid, science-based, peer-reviewed research and likely can add another dimension to your nutrition knowledge.  Additionally, seeing a dietitian gives you someone to help you with accountability. People who consistently see a dietitian see better and more long-lasting results.

What can I expect to happen during a nutrition therapy appointment? 

The first appointment will be an assessment where I’ll gather information about you and your past to best assist you in reaching your goals. Together, we will work on achievable and timely goals. Likely you will be given work to complete in between sessions to help with the continuation of nutrition therapy into your everyday life.

How can my overall health improve by seeing a dietitian?

Food really is the best medicine. A dietitian can help give you individualized eating plans and tips in order to help you be your best self both mentally and physically. Improved eating may help improve sleep, energy, mood, self-confidence, medical conditions and symptoms.



If you’re ready to schedule your first appointment with Sarah, please call our office at (910) 790-9500 today.

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